The first feeling was that of sleep. It was a pleasant drowsy but awakening feeling that pulled my lips into a smile. And as I smiled my eyes shot open as I realised I was alive. Or dead. It seemed to be the same thing.
My eyes took in a wide view of white. I almost wanted to groan at the sight of it, it was just as I’d been told to believe as a child. I’d never thought it was real. I’d never thought I’d be here. I couldn’t decide whether I was lucky this place existed or eternally unlucky.
I was lying on the ground but it didn’t feel like ground. There was some form of sky up above me but it looked like it went on forever, never stopping. There were bumps of clouds way up there like the clouds on Earth but I didn’t think for one second they would be the same ones. I knew there was no way I was still on the Earth realm. The time had been right and I’d been nearing the Suddich sign. I supposed I must have skidded over closer to it in the chaos.
So I must’ve been in the Hereafter.
I pulled myself up and pushed fringe off my face, feeling the perfect smooth curves of my skin, not a bump, line, or rough patch. I went to rub my eyes and found them unobstructed. My glasses were gone. I blinked a few times, holding my hand in front of my face and then pulling it to the side, enjoying the way both near and far focused more than they ever had before. Everything was sharp, clear, and bright, like the first time I’d watched TV in HD and it felt better than looking at something in real life.
The distance seemed to be a blank expanse of nothing and I wondered why I was the only one here. Did I have to find my way to some place? But if I did, what place would that be and how was I supposed to find it?
Even through this, calm and curious were my only emotions and I wasn’t distressed to be alone. I didn’t feel lost or anxious, just a weird feeling of drifting I’d never felt before.
I stood up in one swift, fluid motion, like I hadn’t just been mangled. Looking down at myself, I found I was in my pyjamas but they weren’t burnt, ripped, or stained so they must’ve reverted me back to pre-crash.
They, I scoffed in my head. There’s no one here.
My wrists were clear of my grandmother’s bracelet and my watch and I felt overwhelming relief that I’d saved them, though of course, I wished I could’ve brought them with me.
Maybe I could.
Without knowing what to do or even how to approach it, I shut my eyes and imagined Grandma Claire’s bangle in all the detail I remembered and how it sat on my arm. There was a cold sudden weight on my wrist and I grinned as I opened my eyes.
There, as it had been for two years, was Grandma Claire’s bracelet. The feel of it sitting on my wrist was the one I’d felt back on the Earth realm and that alone made me feel safe and home.
As I took a step forward, I looked down, realising I didn’t have any shoes on. So maybe not reverted to my pre-crash self then. Whatever had happened, I was just thankful that I wasn’t naked. That would make the tranquil lazy feeling evaporate in seconds. The floor was the same temperature as my skin and felt like a brand new fluffy carpet. Now I looked more closely, it seemed cream rather than white and I giggled.
Your first sound in the Hereafter should be laughter, I thought as my voice sounded for the first time in this second life. It rang with a tuneful melody, speaking of nothing but happiness and peace. The complete joy made me giggle again and again and I sighed and shook my head.
I hadn’t needed to take a breath as I’d done it. I could chuckle for hours and not gasp for more. Testing this, I pulled in all the air I could fit into my now useless lungs. It felt like a gentle breeze through my body but nothing more. I let it all out and felt my eyebrows come together in puzzlement. It was a sensation I couldn’t describe, breathing with no reward. I held my breath and waited for something to happen.
But nothing did.
Strange. To be alive and not need to breathe. To be alive at all. Although was I alive? I certainly felt it. But I couldn’t be certain what the definition of living was.
I held my hand to my heart, expectation filling me up, and received a little thrill at its silence and stillness.
So perhaps not alive, though more alive than I’d ever been.
Deciding to just let my second body, or spirit, do whatever it wanted, I at last, turned around. It seemed I wasn’t alone at all. There, a few feet away from me, was Zed. Hands in pockets, guilty smirk on his face.
“I’m dead.” Felt like the right thing to say, my voice ringing with clarity.
He nodded and made his way over to me. “Yep. Sorry.”
I shook my head and shut my eyes for a moment. “It was bad.”
“But it’s gone now.”
I crossed my arms over my chest, aware of the fact I wasn’t wearing a bra under my pyjamas. “You don’t talk much here do you?”
He laughed. “Au contraire. You haven’t got started yet.”
I chewed on my lip a moment, gazing around the huge expanse surrounding us. Then, hitting me like a bucket full of ice water, a thought.
“Grace,” I breathed.
He took my hand. “Fine. Knocked herself out but otherwise fine.”
“She fell down the stairs then?”
“Yep. She got all panicked and tripped on the cord of her dressing gown. She was going to your dad and step-mum’s room.”
“But she’s okay?”
He squeezed my hand. “She’s okay. Good job calling for that ambulance by the way.”
I grimaced. “Yeah, I really helped everyone out there.”
“They heard you screaming and came to your rescue too you know.”
I felt a little pull at my lifeless heart. “Nothing could’ve been done. I . . .”
“You saved a man’s life.”
My eyes went wide. “I did?”
“The paramedics were too late for you but they got there just in time to save the driver in the other car. You’re a hero.”
I smiled, feeling a glowing pouring out of me. “People will remember me like that?”
“Yep. We didn’t need to worry about how they remembered you after all, Angel.”
I screwed up my nose. “I told you not to call me Angel.”
“Everyone’s gonna call you Angel now, I just thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.”
I looked around me. “No one else’s here.”
“Not right here, no, but you wait. There are a few people at least who can’t wait to see you.”
I clenched my fists and stood up a little taller, preparing myself for the world ahead of me. But I deflated as my thoughts strayed to my family.
It felt like my brain was twice the size as it had been before and I could walk around in it, sticking my head in different rooms. There was so much going on, every thought connecting and making sense in double quick time. It almost seemed to buzz.
“What about my family?”
I cringed. “I don’t like the use of okay.”
He shrugged. “Well they’re not excellent but they’ll be fine.”
“Can I go and see them?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. You’ve got a lot to learn.”
“How long will it take?”
“Don’t worry, they’re not going anywhere. But let’s just say those flowers will be long dead and long swept away by the time you step back on Earth.”
I puffed out a pointless breath, relief flooding me. It was one thing seeing the flowers, but seeing my loved ones grieving would be more than I could bear. I would get there and I would be with them. But first I got to be me and nothing more.
It didn’t make me as sick as I thought to think of them. The knowledge that they were safe and alive was enough. Though their lives would be different now, it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried. What was done was done and there was no point dwelling on it. I was going to be here for a long time, I didn’t need to make this harder than it already was.
“So?” Zed tugged me forward a little and we started walking into the blank distance. “You ready?”
“I have so many more questions but . . .” I was silenced as I took in the bizarreness of this place. “I can’t seem to care yet.”
He chuckled. “You don’t have to care one bit.”
“Are we going somewhere else now?”
“Yeah. We’re gonna go meet your Guardians. That’s always an exciting moment.”
I stopped and felt my face drop. “But I’m in my pyjamas.”
A short sharp laugh rang around us and Zed doubled over, hooting and cackling.
Against my will, a smile turned up my lips. “What’s so funny?”
“You’re so peculiar.”
I chuckled. “I think the word is fascinating.”
He took control of himself. “That it is.” Spinning the bracelet around my wrist he shook his head. “If you don’t want to be wearing your pyjamas, why are you still wearing them?”
“Oh.” Blush flushed in my cheeks, not feeling as hot or uncomfortable as it had before. I shut my eyes and imagined my favourite dress that I’d worn to Otter’s party. This time however, I felt comfortable enough to go without the leggings.
I giggled once more as I took in my dress and my new found power, dropping Zed’s hand and spinning around. I couldn’t stop the beam from lighting up my face. I couldn’t quiet the joy in my heart.
When I stopped, a question fell into my mouth. “Why the pyjamas? Was it because I was wearing them before?”
“No.” Zed shook his head.
“That makes sense because I wasn’t wearing shoes.” Now I was wearing the flat black shoes I’d also worn to Otter’s party. I’d thought it and was wearing them at once.
He smirked. “You were wearing them because that’s what you were wearing in a recent moment you were happy.”
I screwed up my face. “Really?”
He closed the gap between us and pressed his lips to mine. A jolt of something pure electric had me jumping back from him, panting, however useless that was now.
“Remember?” He was far too smug for my liking.
I put my hands on my hips. “That’s a bit presumptuous isn’t it? Who said I was happy then?” Though I tried, I couldn’t rid the humour from my voice.
“Oh I see.” He leant forward so we were inches apart, our noses almost touching.
My mouth went dry and I felt like I should’ve been hyperventilating though I was not.
“You weren’t happy then?”
I wet my lips. “Perhaps I haven’t thought enough about it yet.”
“Well maybe . . .” He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, making me shiver. “You have a long time to think about it.”
“Maybe I have,” I whispered.
“Just get back to me on that one.” He winked.
I laughed, a nervous sort of thrilled sound. “Will do.”
He took my face in his hands and drew me to him, the delicious seconds before our lips met lasting longer than I ever thought possible. When our skin touched and I got that shot of pulse again, it felt like my heart might restart.
This time I didn’t feel like I should hold back and I sighed as our lips fell in and out of sync, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him closer to me. In this life, I was certain, I’d want him near me. I couldn’t speak of the future but I knew for now that was the truth. And what was more important than living in the now?
“Okay.” I pulled away. “Don’t we have somewhere to be?”
He nodded. “We.” He kissed me again. “Should.” And again. “Go.” And again. “Now.”
I sighed and shut my eyes as he rested his forehead against mine. “You’re right.”
We stood there for a moment that was timeless and perfect before he kissed me on the nose and stood up straight again. “Let’s go.” He squeezed my hand. “We’ve got a whole ‘nother life to carry on with that thought.”
I grinned. “Where to now?”
“Now?” He chuckled. “How about further into the Hereafter to meet the angels who’ve been watching you?”
I pressed my lips into a tight line and nodded once, sharp.
I laughed. “Of course I’m ready. I was killed for this.”
I shook my head and only as I did it did I realise that I wasn’t afraid. The nerves, like tendrils of anxiety snaking out from my heart, retracted at a long breath.
“Good. Onwards!” He pointed our joined hands in front of us and then we started walking out of my little calm bubble of white and peace and silence and out into the vibrant bright land that was known as the Hereafter.